Saturday, 18 May 2019

Movie Review: The Seduction Of Joe Tynan (1979)


A political drama, The Seduction Of Joe Tynan explores the intoxicating power of politics and the price paid in pursuit of a high profile.

Charismatic and photogenic New York Senator Joe Tynan (Alan Alda) is the rising star in the Democratic Party. He is married to Ellie (Barbara Harris), who tolerates his career despite the tension caused by his frequent absences from home and their two children's growing detachment from their dad. To further raise his profile Tynan decides to lead opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Anderson, a southerner with a chequered record on racial segregation.

This places Tynan at odds with his friend and long-time Senator Birney (Melvyn Douglas), whose health is fading. Tynan starts working on the Anderson file with labor lawyer Karen Traynor (Meryl Streep), who uses her connections in the south to dig up dirt on the nominee judge. Passion soon ignites between Joe and Karen, further straining his home life, but his career momentum appears unstoppable.

A rich representation of what a career in politics entails, The Seduction Of Joe Tynan moves smoothly between committee meetings, backroom dealings and rural backwaters as strategies are crafted, pressure applied and the sometimes dirty work of laying traps and outmanoeuvring opponents is plotted.

The democratic process demands that willing individuals like Tynan bear the load of governance in the public spotlight, elevating them to celebrity status and the associated trappings. The Seduction Of Joe Tynan succeeds in highlighting the emotional and personal toll of public office. Directed by Jerry Schatzberg and written by Alda, the film is a fast-paced jaunt through one man's upwards trajectory. Equally balanced between the Senator's work and family, Schatzberg deftly keeps an eye on all aspects of Tynan's life and avoids getting bogged down in any one subplot.

Alda's script at times descends into the obvious, some of the political machinations and family fights drawn with stark crayons. But generally The Seduction Of Joe Tynan captures a fundamental struggle between the lure of public adoration and the essential grounding of a personal life. As the Senator flies closer to the sun, the glare of positive publicity and euphoria of future potential obscure what matters, leaving his wife and family in the shadows.

While Alda's performance in the lead role is confined to well-defined and often stiff parameters, the two actresses portraying the women in Tynan's life shine. Streep brings uncommon depth to the "other woman", displaying seriousness, seduction, playfulness and introspection as Karen influences the Senator's life. Barbara Harris also shines as the wife intent on carving out an identity and pushing back against the increasing intrusion of politics into her life, and yet wanting to support her husband's career.

Reserving judgment on Tynan's decisions, the film allows the trade-offs to bump against each other. Ultimately the question is not about right or wrong, but the levels of accommodation available for driven politicians to help shape a country.






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